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Middle History

Smuggling

Most of history has passed Ropley by. The Civil War skirted its edges with the Battle of Cheriton in 1644, which has been described as a turning point in the Civil War, forcing King Charles from the offensive to a defensive position. The monument to this battle is outside the parish boundary, on the road to Cheriton. It is worth a visit for being in a lovely val- ley with fine paths and lanes around for walking.

But Ropley did at least play a notable part in the smuggling trade, some saying it was the real cen- tre of smuggling in Hampshire in the 19th century, with villagers and gentry combining forces to defeat the best efforts of the excise officers. At its height smuggling is believed to have accounted for up to a third of all trade in England, with full scale battles between the smugglers and excise officers involving hundreds of men a frequent occurrence. Covering a wide wooded area of relatively isolated farmsteads and on the north road from Portsmouth, Ropley was an ideal distribution point for smuggled goods which came up from the coast by cart or pack horse, usually at night. “Smugglers”, the white house in Smugglers Lane, off the Petersfield Road, was one such centre, with hidden cellars and a 200 foot well. Most houses and cottages in the area would have had their caches of illicit goods and “moonshine”, which were also hidden in woods, high hedges, and even in the tithe barn behind the Old Parsonage. On Sunday evening the villagers would flock to Monkwood after the evening service in St Peters where the goods were displayed for sale, “like a Fair”.

Rev. Samuel Maddock

8 — Ropley at the Millennium

Ropley House

The 18th century Squire of what is now Ropley Grove, Major Lavender, JP, churchwarden, and member of the Hunt, was a leading smuggler, and his hidden cellar was not discovered until 1928. Re- portedly whilst visited by unwelcome excise officers he wined, dined and delayed them till his groom could hide the contraband. Young Mr Duthy of Ropley House was also reportedly involved, using his father’s horses at night to help the smugglers, and on his father finding out he was ordered out of the house, but his sisters helped him out with money and food which they let down to him at night from their bedroom window.

The first major rift between Vicar and people in Ropley occurred with the Vicar Samuel Maddock, the dominant figure of village history in the 19th century. It was under him that the outlines of the current village and its institutions first took shape. Vicar for 53 years, from 1818 to 1871, he was sternly opposed to smuggling and to the drinking habits of the village. A regular group of men and women would spend their Sundays drinking under the boughs of the great yew tree in the churchyard, which in those days spread as far as the porch. A form of irregular warfare developed, with pails of water, and effigy of the Vicar hanging from a tree, until a group of young men attempted to murder him but were frightened into repentance by a thun- derstorm at the critical moment. They rushed up to him and begged forgiveness, and the Vicar lived to the ripe old age of 85. This and other stories were

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